Android 12’s Privacy Dashboard is Just a Start

More changes need to be made to protect consumer privacy

Key Takeaways

  • Google will introduce a Privacy Dashboard and several other privacy features in Android 12.
  • The new Privacy Dashboard will help users keep track of which apps use their camera, microphone, and location data.
  • Experts note that these new features in Android 12 will not stop apps from tracking users, which means your private data still could be at risk.
Someone using a smartphone with a locked icon shield around it.

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Android 12’s Privacy Dashboard is nice, but it ultimately falls short of the privacy controls that Android users deserve.

It’s not unusual for smartphone operating systems to follow in the footsteps of their competitors. That seems to be the case with Android 12, as Google is doubling down on privacy features similar to those Apple already has released for iOS.

While the move to include more features like Android 12’s Privacy Dashboard is good for users and delivers some great additions that iPhone users already get to enjoy, it ultimately fails to deliver the same level of privacy protection. It also fails to address the growing concerns over how apps track and collect user data, by not giving users complete control of which apps can and can’t track them.

"There are some subtle differences in how they [Apple and Google] present much of the same information: Android 12's dashboard takes a more feature-by-feature approach, first summarizing 'permissions by type' (what apps are accessing device camera, location, microphone, contacts, etc.), while Apple provides a holistic view of what each specific app is doing," Rob Shavell, a privacy expert and CEO of online privacy agency DeleteMe, told Lifewire in an email.

"There are also subtle differences in the degree of control each company is giving end-users over application behavior."

Better to Ask Forgiveness

One of the reasons that iOS 14.5 has received such high praise from privacy experts is because of Apple’s permission-based approach to letting users determine who can and should track their usage and data. Where Apple prompts users when they install a new app, Google goes more for an "ask forgiveness later" approach.

"Google's approach (as far as we understand it at the time of this writing) appears to be a mix of both 'more permissive' but 'more selective.' There is no similar intention of presenting a pre-emptive 'all or nothing' choice at the point of installation," Shavell explained.

While both Apple and Google make money off of advertising, it’s important to note the differences in how the two approach it. This plays an important part in how willing the companies are to give consumers control of their data. Apple has hardware that it can rely on to bring in income, but Google counts most of its revenue from advertising.

Last year, Alphabet—Google’s parent company—reported that over 80% of its $183 billion revenue had come from online advertisements. Because so much of the company’s income comes from advertising, it makes sense that Google could be unwilling to go to the lengths that Apple has to let users completely stop apps from tracking their data. But, that doesn’t mean the moves Google is making are unimportant.

More Is Better

Despite its reliance on online advertisements for most of its income, Google has continued to push consumer privacy as an important focus for the advancements made in Android 12 and other platforms. It recently introduced a way to password protect your web activity page, which can track all your Google usage, and Android 12 will bring other features like app nutrition labels to the Play Store.

"As much as we welcome these new features, we [must] remain cognizant that the motive isn't simply 'customer privacy...'"

Google’s moves aren’t meaningless, and they will offer some protection for user privacy. But, they don’t go to the lengths that users truly deserve. As such, Shavell says users should be wary of which apps they download and how they let those applications access their data when using Android devices.

"Mobile devices have long been a sieve of personal information, exploited by digital marketers and malicious actors alike," Shavell explained. "Greater transparency and control over how data is handled is exactly what we hope to see from all tech companies."

"However, it is still worth keeping in mind that none of these features limit Google or Apple's own ability to track user behavior and subsequently use that data for their own advertising and marketing services," he said.

"As much as we welcome these new features, we [must] remain cognizant that the motive isn't simply 'customer privacy,' but also a strategic play by both firms to exert greater control over who gets to access data about their very valuable user base."

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